Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Rating: 3 Stars

It’s been a while since I read a Young Adult book. I wasn’t planning on reading this one either despite the wave of publicity generated by the movie release; except that the young adults in my house attested to its overall excellence, advising me to read the first book and skip the other two in the trilogy. Word of mouth publicity from trusted sources; it still works.

‘The Hunger Games’ has the needful ingredients for a teen adventure – a dystopia where the brave child/quasi adult must battle oppressive forces, and in the process discover the hero within. In Collins’ version, a Post-Apocalyptic North America has been renamed Panem, and fragmented into twelve districts. These districts are required by law to provide two contestants each to participate in the annual Hunger Games. What ensues is a fight to the finish where the last one left standing is declared winner. The winner is then apparently set for life, and for one year his/her district will receive a generous largesse of much-needed food and other necessities. And oh yes, the whole thing will be telecast live. That’s a definite nod in the direction of a generation of readers fed a diet of reality game-shows and live war-coverage.

Panem is a totalitarian society and the Hunger Games are not so much diversion, but a brutal reminder to the people as to who sways the decision of life or death over its citizens. Our narrator, Katniss Everdeen, finds herself catapulted into the Games by a single act of valor. Katniss is an ambiguous heroine - bleakly self-sufficient one minute, vulnerable the next. This girl from District 12 is an experienced hunter, and girds her loins to the task at hand like any hairy-chested man of action. Except of course, she isn’t. To prove that point Collins devotes ample prose to the princessification of Katniss, who enjoys her spa treatments and coterie of personal stylists like any salon-deprived girl from the boondocks would.

I’ll say one thing for it – the book is a page-turner. The pace is edge-of-your-seat, and the action rarely slows. The premise is an archetype – part 1984, part Lord of the Flies, with older antecedents if you’re so inclined to look for it. The much hyped violence quotient is not hype after all. It’s fairly unsettling, and probably better suited for more mature readers, but don’t try telling that to your middle-school kids. It will probably be the surest way to have them scrambling to read it. On the other hand, talking about the book could lead to some great discussions about Darwinism vis-à-vis Human Civilization. 

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